Thanks to a simple YouTube to MP3 converter, 25-year-old student Philip Matesanz is making millions, and he’s taking on the music and ad tech industries in the process.
Up to 200 million visits a month, each with an average duration of five minutes, and that without any paid traffic. If you’re thinking numbers like that can only be from one of German media’s heavy hitters like Bild or Spiegel, you’d be wrong. These figures were put up by none other than youtube-mp3.org. It’s a simple site with a singular function: converting YouTube videos into MP3 files and then providing it as a download. Its popularity has propelled it to the 104th largest website in the world according to SimilarWeb. The person behind the site is Philip Matesanz, a 25-year-old Computer Science student from Hannover. We spoke to him about the project and asked him how a site can crack the top 200, how to monetize it and why he’s constantly battling Google and the music industry.
UPDATE—SEPTEMBER 5, 2017
Philipp Matesanz and youtube-mp3.org are shutting down. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and a collection of labels won their lawsuit against Philipp Matesanz and youtube-mp3.org Matesanz agreed to hand over control of the website to the RIAA and pay an undisclosed fine. The RIAA will transfer the domain to an as yet unspecified record label. Furthermore, Matesanz has agreed to refrain from “knowingly designing, developing, offering, or operating any technology or service that allows or facilitates the practice commonly known as ‘streamripping.’”
ORIGINAL ARTICLE BELOW
If you have ever wanted to download a certain version of a song – for personal use, of course – that you can only find on YouTube, you’ve probably come across Matesanz’ youtube-mp3.org. His site provides exactly that service – and only that service. After copying the video URL to the text field and clicking „convert video,“ the clip’s audio track is downloaded as an MP3 file. No software installation is required, but Matesanz does offer additional browser add-ons for Chrome and Firefox.
A simple website put together in his childhood bedroom is now a project making millions
Despite the rapidly rising popularity of streaming services like Spotify, Juke, etc., the desire to convert YouTube videos does not appear to be waning. The trend is backed up by both a quick look at Google Trends, which shows that the search query „youtube mp3“ is just below its all-time high, as well as the impressive numbers that youtube-mp3.org continues to put up. According to SimilarWeb, an online analytics company, Matesanz’ bare-bones site amassed an incredible 144 million visits in June 2016, which was good enough to rank 104th in the world. To put those figures in context, Germany’s most popular news outlet, bild.de, had roughly 163 million visits in the same period, while Spiegel Online had „just“ 108 million visitors to its site, both according to IVW. The SEO tool Sistrix shows a total of 7.143 keywords for youtube-MP3.org that place the website on Google’s result pages, while 271 search terms, including such strong and relevant combinations like „YouTube MP3,“ „YouTube MP3 download“ and „YouTube download MP3,“ list the site first.
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It’s true that SimilarWeb’s traffic data needs to be taken with a grain of salt (e.g. according to IVW, bild.de had 163 million visits and not only 65 million). However, for reference purposes and a rough idea of the site’s performance, especially compared to its direct competitors like tube2mp3.org or convertmp3.net, they more than suffice. Philip Matesanz himself says that SimilarWeb’s numbers are too high. „I don’t like to say specific numbers, but those figures are greatly exaggerated. Quantcast, for example, has my site ranked 10,651, which I think is too low. I personally think my site is somewhere in the mid-1000s,“ he says.
Matesanz also thinks he knows why there could be such a discrepancies between the figures. For him, it’s „most likely due to the fact that attacks are unfortunately a part of daily business in this sector. For years, I’ve had to watch how invisible frames have been attached to many websites that load my site. Such ‘malicious’ traffic has increased immensely and is becoming an increasingly large problem, because ads cannot be displayed to those users.“ Usually, Matesanz’ portal monetizes the site via imbedded ads. If these happen to be loaded in the background on third-party sites, they cannot be clicked. Fake traffic doesn’t generate any money and damages campaign performance on the site in the long term.
When it started, youtube-mp3.org had hardly any reach, before exploding with traffic
Philip Matesanz has been operating the site since late 2009. What began in his bedroom and was initially financed with 50 euros out of pocket, now comfortably provides for his livelihood. And that’s despite the fact that the portal was hardly a success from the get-go, as Matesanz had difficulty pulling traffic to the site at first. „I did not have much experience in creating traffic. My first forays posting in various forums were not successful. No matter what I tried, I could not generate more than 100 visits a day,“ he says, remembering the site’s infancy. „I was actually done with the project when all of a sudden traffic started pouring in. To this day, I do not exactly know how it happened, despite having spent time looking for a root cause.“
Despite landing on numerous blacklists, Matesanz is purported to generate six figures per month
Even if Matesanz has been able to notch some victories in his dealings with Google and the music industry, he says the attempts to shut down youtube-mp3.org have not been without consequence. „At present, I can only assume that the blacklist system is shutting me out of a significant part of the market, which hinders me in realizing the full advertising potential.“ These blacklists are created by operators of advertising platforms (demand-side platforms, DSP for short). If a site is placed on one of these lists, they are no longer available to advertisers who book their ads through one of the respective DSPs. Due to the fact that there are thousands of advertising clients connected to these advertising platforms, this creates a critical multiplier effect. „If DSP feels a website is ‘bad,’ it is cut off immediately from several thousands of advertising clients. Sometimes, a site is blacklisted after just a single user lodges a complaint,“ says Matesanz. He says it is a very questionable development on the market, because it significantly shrinks the relevant purchasing market and artificially reduces the supply, thus forcing advertising clients to pay more thanks to a higher price level.
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According to Matesanz there are initiatives throughout Europe that are focusing on creating centralized, company-wide blacklists. „I already think the internal blacklists for purchasing platforms infringe on anti-trust laws. Yet, the fact that the European initiatives are being pursued unabated is even more worrisome. Just recently, a similar initiative limited to Germany was shot down citing anti-trust concerns by the Federal Cartel Office. And yet, there continues to be publicly listed companies, who are pressing ahead with the issue,“ says Matesanz.
To get a rough idea of the magnitude of the income generated by youtube-mp3.org, we took a look at a report on the domain through a DSP. According to the report, there are theoretically one billion ad impressions available in a period of 30 days alone. 14.58 million unique users are said to use the service each month. Even when using these numbers as a mere reference figure, they are impressive. Using just a low CPM price of ten cents (which is used when less than 100% of the inventory is expected to be sold), the monthly income generated would approach EUR 100,000. Experts from our Rockstar network who are well versed in the marketing of similar traffic pertaining to quality, volume and location, see as much as EUR 200,000 per month as realistic. No matter which figure turns out to be right, that’s a ton of money for a one-man show with minimal overhead.
Matesanz told the German daily Zeit three years ago that he has no profit-motive and saves any surplus he has in order to finance legal costs. Regardless of his first statement, his second may soon be relevant as he plans on taking the blacklist case to the European Court of Justice. „I have a major interest in presenting the case and forcing the ECoJ into a decision. I have been fortunate enough to find a litigation funder, but there are many opposed to the claim. For me, it is more about meeting on an amicable level. I would like to invite every DSP representative to get in touch with me. For every problem, there is a solution beneficial to all parties involved. That’s not something I can say about a lawsuit.“